School math in history
and school math after unschooling

Sandra Dodd, on Always Learning once:
As an instrument of mental culture mathematics can pretend to but a single benefit. This study “if pursued in moderation, and if efficiently counteracted, may be beneficial in the correction of a certain vice and in the formation of its corresponding virtue. The vice is the habit of mental distraction; the virtue, the habit of continuous attention."
The quote is from a 1911 "Cyclopedia of Education." But I have it from the blog of someone who followed me on twitter (where I rarely tweet) probably (as seems happens to me) in hopes that I would somehow funnel people to her blog. I don't know.

But I did LOOK at her blog, and found that perhaps early arithmetic lessons could have caused my mental distraction. According to the article, if I had chorea, it also probably caused that. What IS chorea? I didn't know, but being of vice-filled (vicious?) mental distractability, I looked it up.

Twitching. Involuntary physical convulsions.

Math study can also cause eye problems and sleep disturbance. If a child is doing sums in his dreams, that is an obvious cause of injury to health.

This is the one I read. Part 2.

This is the one I skimmed. Part 1. By then I had learned enough about the dangers of mathematics and felt pretty smug that I hadn't pressed any math lessons on my children. They grew up sleeping plenty, and not twitching. Yay, me!

Don't read at that blog too long, please. It could disturb your sleep.

I thought is was an amusing example of another way someone assured people that something fairly benign is HORRIBLY DANGEROUS.

I do agree that the amount of school time spent on math is excessive. But it's about clocks and schedules. Six subjects (or eight or nine), dividing the day evenly so that students can rotate through the classrooms of specialists, and extending those "crucial subject areas" backwards through elementary, back to kindergarten and into early childhood ed, so that babies can be on the fast track to the best universities.

My kids all caught up with formal math in a semester or two of community college. Marty did up to calculus. Kirby only took one class but makes use of math all the time in his work and play, and is good with money and loans and banking and all that practical life stuff.

Holly took three classes, I think. Maybe two. Liked it; it wasn't difficult. There were people in class with her bemoaning the difficulty, and they had been in school for twelve years or more, taking math classes.

Sandra, February 15, 2014, on Always Learning

Catching up in school

Katherine/queenjane wrote:

My son (11 yrs old) has been unschooled since age 7, and in December decided to go to 6th grade at the local middle school. (I wrote a bit about that here: (EDITOR'S NOTE: That forum is gone, but I found a Wayback Machine archived copy of that page.)

At various times in our unschooling journey, other parents (especially school-at-home parents) would ask me some variation of "but aren't you worried about math??" or "how will he know what he needs to know in college??" or some such thing...I think people mostly worry about math. I didn't worry about math, in fact, I really didnt think of "math" much at all. I had a horrible experience with math classes in high school, and have the typical "math phobia" that many people have. I know alot of unschooling parents find ways to present math concepts in their everyday lives, like through games and whatnot...but beyond the occasional cooking experience or yugioh game, Seamus really didn't have tons of "math exposure." He went into sixth grade not yet knowing his times tables, or long division, or multiplying two digit numbers. Heck, Ii think he just learned how to tell time on a non-digital clock like a year ago!

So....turns out....math...not a big deal! He's at the top of his class. First he was getting a C, which increased to a solid B, and i think by the end of the year that will be an A (he's hoping for an A+)...while the teacher is lamenting that the other students' grades are slipping his are getting better. Not only that, but he LOVES math. It's his favorite subject. His teacher said that she is amazed at the unique way he views math, that he asks questions that she doesn't even know how to answer. She said she is not at all worried about him. He signed up to stay after one day each week when the teacher provides extra tutoring, and he loves that as well. Seamus is so enthusiatic about MATH, and I think it has surprised his teacher. I doubt she gets alot of that. They offer algebra to 7th graders as an advanced class, and you have to take a special test and meet certain requirements to qualify (only 10 sixth graders total will be allowed to take it in 7th, as normally it's an advanced class for 8th graders)...Seamus desperately wants in that class, and has asked his cousin (who is in that class right now) to tutor him in algebra since he thinks it's so cool. Seamus even told me that "Katherine, I think whether I choose a career in something creative, like writing or art, or something more scientific like game design or animation, that high level math will be important, so I want to take as many classes as possible." Uh, ok, go for it!

He also got an A- in Social Studies, and a B (which i think will be an A by the end of the year) in Science. He got a D+ in Language Arts (which is funny considering he is really good at creative writing, reading, etc...but not so much at following all the little details about diagramming sentences the teacher requires), he doesn't like the class or teacher at all and has chosen not to work to hard to improve that grade, which I totally understand and support.

So...I know that grades don't matter much (or at all to unschoolers! ) but I thought it might be helpful or encouraging to those with worries...Seamus was very unschooled, and i never thought he'd choose to go back to school, and yet he is a very "successful" student who fit right in, joined band, wants to go out for a sport (like track) next year, is well liked by his teachers and peers. Not being taught formal math did not at all impede his ability to catch on quickly when he was in an environment where it was required, and indeed I feel it was precisely *because* he was unschooled, that he is so successful now in school. He doesnt view math as something boring or hard because no one told him it had to be that way. And because he is used to figuring things out in his own unique way, he does that and still gets the right answers. He still doesn't know his times tables, and it has not slowed him down one bit. (Here's a secret...most of the other kids in his class don't know them either!)

I don't know if Seamus will ever be an unschooler again, he knows it's his choice to quit school whenever he wants (and he took the day off today just because he wanted to), we're still coming to conferences etc....but the biggest proof to me that unschooling is amazing and "works" is to see my unschooler in school, and to know what a different experience he is having—on his own terms—than I ever did.

Katherine (queenjane)

Maths or "math, mathedy-math-math math"